Settling in Ho Chi Minh City…as a student
ACG International School Vietnam students come from all over the world. For many, this is their first time away from home. Read their individual stories and how they’ve settled in Ho Chi Minh City here:
Gabriella arrived in Ho Chi Minh City 9 months ago, from Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria. This is her first time away from home and admitted that she was shocked when her dad told the family about the relocation to Vietnam. Gabriella knew very little about Vietnam other than it was country somewhere in South East Asia. After a few weeks in this hot and exotic country, Gabriella soon discovered that she prefers the culture and weather in Ho Chi Minh City. She finds the people here friendlier, more approachable and warmer, which, in fact, took her some time to get used to, because in her hometown it is common to be reserved. Gabriella is a Year 11 student at ACG International School Vietnam - her first international school and also her first time learning in English - where she has made good friends from different parts of the world: America, Japan, the Philippines and South Korea… ‘There is not so much competitiveness here at our School. People are warm and welcoming. No one discriminates as they often do back where I am from. Everyone is a friend. That is what I love about being at an international school like this.’ Gabriella finds Ho Chi Minh City a great place with lots of things for young people to do. At the weekend, Gabriella likes to hang out with friends in Vincom or Crescent Mall. Suoi Tien and Vung Tau are her favourite get-aways! Gabriella loves Vietnam so much that she is already planning her return when she graduates from University. For Gabriella, the key to having a positive experience in a new city is to open up and having an open mind.
Alishia was born in New Zealand and has lived in three different parts of the world before coming to Vietnam. When her dad announced to the family that they would be relocating to Vietnam: “Whooo-hooo!”, Alishia remembers crying with excitement. With her mum being Vietnamese, Alishia’s family had always spent Summer Holidays in Vietnam so coming back here to live felt, to her, like coming home. Alishia now enjoys living close to her extended family. They would often get together with her grandparents, aunts and uncles, sharing stories about yester-years, which is something that Alishia missed out on in her early childhood. During her spare time, Alishia enjoys reading and cycling around (the quiet parts of) town, exploring different places and seeing what the locals do, what they eat… her all-time favourite Vietnamese dishes are: Phở and Bánh Canh. Alishia admits that one of the most important factors that can ease the settling-in process is friendship: “Without good friends, you feel alone and this can knock your confidence... it’s important to find a school in which you feel welcome. Having good friends and enjoying school makes all the difference to how well you settle into a new city.’ A student at ACG International School Vietnam, Alishia has not only formed a close circle of friends after a year, but also feels that school is a social environment where she is motivated to do her best. Alishia has received a number of Achievement and Excellence awards in a range of subjects. She is happy with her academic results but most of all, she feels that Vietnam has helped her to become a global citizen. (Alishia’s story ‘Escape’ won the Hoa Sen Short Story Writing competition in May 2012.)
Oskar is a 10 year old, golden-haired Californian who came to Vietnam with his parents and four brothers and sisters a year ago. An observant type, he spent his first few months in Vietnam comparing and contrasting Ho Chi Minh City with California. He couldn’t help but miss what he described as his ‘organised’ neighbourhood, where everything, from housing to the landscape, is orderly and structured. During the first few months, he also missed the forests – some of world's most spectacular forests - that are renowned in California. He spent weeks dwelling on what California had and what Vietnam didn’t have. When Oskar joined ACG International School Vietnam in August 2011 and started making friends with people from different cultures, it was like a philosophical Oskar had been awoken: ‘My friends took me in despite my differences. After a while, although we had our own preferences, likes and dislikes, we realise that deep down, we’re not all that different.’ After a year in Ho Chi Minh City, Oskar’s view of the world has broadened. He has seen slums and poverty with his very own eyes - when they were previously just abstract concepts. Oskar has admiration for the people who have so little and yet they are so content. He said: ‘If I had the little that they have, I’d be sad. But these people are happy with their reality… That’s admirable.’ Not only has Oskar grown spiritually and physically in Vietnam, he feels that the move has brought his family closer together than ever before.
Amanda was born in New Zealand, and she grew up in Malaysia and Egypt until the age of 10. Last year, Amanda and her family moved to Vietnam so that her dad could work on a new Golf assignment. Having lived in four countries in the first ten years of her life, Amanda considers herself as a bit of a ‘relocation connoisseur’. Her top tip for a successful integration is to explore the country by visiting as many places as possible and making new friends. In her spare time, Amanda likes to go to the City. This will keep things exciting and helps us to stay positive. Whilst Amanda admits that Malaysia has been her favourite place to live, she also enjoys the shopping in Vietnam; the quiet compound where she can cycle with her best friend; and her School. Amanda is a Year 6 student at ACG International School, which she asserts: ’…is the best school that I’ve ever been to’. Amanda cemented her feelings about ACG following a hugely successful 2-day IB Primary Year Exhibition, in which all Year 6 delivered presentations about a chosen topic, performed and sang. Through the exhibition, Amanda formed stronger bonds with friends in the same year group and gained heaps of confidence. She constantly searches for new challenges and is looking forward to joining the Student Leadership Council in the new school year. According to Amanda, settling in Ho Chi Minh City can be as easy as ‘HCMC’ if you have a positive and ‘give it a go’ attitude.
It was a wet and humid evening in the middle of Vietnam’s monsoon season when Sam, his sister and parents arrived in Ho Chi Minh City last year. Having lived in Cairo, Egypt for over two years, where Sam was settled with close friends and a good city lifestyle, he dreaded the thought of yet another move to a new country, new school and having the pressure of making new friends. Amidst the hustle and bustle of Tan Son Nhat airport, Sam had to get used to the idea that this is now his new home. A year on and Sam has fallen in love with this City. For a teenager like Sam, Ho Chi Minh City is an exciting place: Sam likes to hang out with his friends at the weekend, watch movies at brand new cinemas, explore Ho Chi Minh City’s historical attractions and play football in the warm outdoors. Sam finds Vietnam a charming place where people are laidback and friendly. Sam sends the following message to friends of the same age who are relocating to Vietnam: “If you’re worried or nervous about having to learn a new language in Vietnam like I was, don’t be. English is used in most places. Not having the language barrier has helped me feel at home here.”Sam notes that having good friends and going to a good school have also helped him to settle in quickly. He is looking forward to embarking on the IB Diploma Programme in August at ACG International School.
Ebba was 11 years old when her parents decided to move away from Skåne, a small village in Sweden of around 1000 people, to the populated and bustling Ho Chi Minh City. Ebba recalls not wanting to leave the familiarity of her hometown, school and the community centre where she and her friends would meet for frequent Basketball games. She was certainly going to miss the country where she had grown up enjoying the colours of four seasons. Ebba enrolled at ACG International School nearly 2 years ago, where, fortunately, the Girls’ Basketball team needed a new team member. Ebba joined and quickly gained a reputation for her shooting precision. She has led the team to victory in inter-school tournaments on numerous occasions. Ebba has developed good friendships at school- an important factor that has helped her settle in more easily in Vietnam. She has grown tremendously as a person ever since moving to Vietnam, especially in her studies. Not only has she learnt English as a result of attending an international school, she has also mastered essential learning skills as well as having the independence in and taking responsibility for her own learning. Ebba is preparing for another move to Doha this summer. She is excited about the challenge and believes that her experience in Vietnam has equipped her with many skills to adapt in any new environment
Laura was only 9 when she came to Vietnam from Sweden with mum, dad and her brother & sister. Having never left the comfort of home in Småland before, Laura was very nervous about going to a new school and making new friends. Far from her hometown, where snow would fall up to your knees and you could skate on the icy lakes and catch a fresh trout or two from beneath nature’s ice rink, Ho Chi Minh City was a daunting place for Laura. After four weeks at ACG International School Vietnam, Laura began to soak up the new English language at school and began forming strong bonds with classmates. Laura is now full of confidence and energy. She takes pride in her work at school; enjoys being able to read and write in English, a second language that she picked up only after a couple of months at the school and she loves being able to do PE and swimming in the warm outdoors. It has been an exciting learning journey for Laura that has helped her to develop as a person.
With parents working for NGOs, Corina is an international student who is part of a transient community. She was born in Switzerland, grew up in Senegal and is now living and studying here in Vietnam. Having been exposed to many different worlds and communities from a young age, Corina is comfortable in facing new challenges and is completely at ease with her new life, friends and school in Vietnam. Her family shares a house with a Vietnamese family of 6, which Corina finds to be a fun experience that gives her greater understanding of the Vietnamese people and insight into the culture. For her, Vietnam is an open and friendly place, where she finds it easy to make connections and start conversations. The only drawback for Corina is having to catch up with a different curriculum. She is currently in Year 12 at ACG International School Vietnam and preparing for the AS (University of Cambridge) exams. With helpful teachers and a commitment to learning, Corina is predicted to achieve positive results.
Soren came to Vietnam from the United States with his parents, brothers and sisters 9 months ago because of dad’s job. He dreaded the thought of leaving his close friends, neighbourhood and car! He feared the thought of having to learn another language and making new friends. After a week in Ho Chi Minh City, Soren and his siblings enrolled at ACG International School Vietnam in District 2 and all his fears were soon forgotten. Embraced by students from all over the world, Soren soon made himself at home by joining the Student Leadership Committee, contributing to key initiatives at the School. His talent for Basketball was also quickly uncovered and he now plays for School team in city-wide tournaments. Currently Soren is busy preparing for the IB Diploma- a new challenge for him- and is confident that he will succeed with all the support from his teachers. As for many other teenagers, school is an instrumental social system that can make the settling into a new country an easier and, even, pleasant task.
Three years ago, Denise and her family flew to Vietnam from Cavite, an island North of the Philippines, for her dad’s new job. For the nine year old, it was an exciting first adventure away from home.
She misses her grandparents more than anything but admits that the Philippines is only a short plane ride away and frequent Skype chats help them to stay connected. She also admits to missing McDonald’s fast-food and Starbucks coffee, but has fallen equally in love with Phở. There are many similarities between her hometown and Ho Chi Minh City, such as the climate, the laidback way of life and the friendliness of the people. There are just a few more cars in the Philippines, but other than that, Denise feels very at home in Vietnam. Denise is now in Year 8 at ACG International School, where she has formed strong bonds with “cool” friends from many different countries. For teenagers like Denise, friendship seems to be an important factor in helping young people to settle into a new environment with school playing an essential part in that process. Through school, Denise feels that she has been exposed to many new opportunities, from fieldtrips to rural Vietnam, to sporting events such as swimming galas and football tournaments. Denise has also discovered a talent in music after her debut performance with band members at the School’s graduation ceremony, where she played the bass guitar. She has loved every minute of living in Vietnam, a place where she has developed immensely as a person and broadened her horizons. For Denise, ACG is the symbol of Vietnam!
Elspeth is a nine year old girl from England who loves ‘Cơm Tấm Bì’ (broken rice with grilled pork), riding her bicycle to the local outdoor market and taking her dogs for a walk in the warm dawn. Elspeth came to Ho Chi Minh City after spending a number of years in Egypt, where her mum and dad were teachers at an international school. Whilst she loved the hustle and bustle of Egypt, she feels more relaxed in Vietnam, ‘There is less pollution here and it’s not as noisy!’ compares Elspeth, ‘People wave at me when I ride pass them. Little gestures like that make me feel really welcome here.’ Elspeth has spent most of her childhood living in between England, Spain and Egypt. She reveals her secret for successful integration is talking to the local people. With her positive attitude and enthusiasm, Elspeth has made friends quickly and is valued amongst her peers. Whilst it might take some of us months to adjust to a new country, Elspeth had excelled at her new school, ACG International School, scoring impressive results for a Year 6 Maths assessment and taking a prominent role in the Year 6 Exhibition as presenter, singer and performer.
She admits that with every new move comes its challenges and learning curve, ’but… a positive outlook and an open mind,’ the wise and talented nine year old Elspeth advised, ‘will help us experience and enjoy more of what the new host country has to give.’